Showing posts with label EV Article Development. Show all posts
Showing posts with label EV Article Development. Show all posts

Nationalism, Ideology and Consensual Democracy (Chin, Mizo, Kuki, Zomi or Zo)

Since its inception, the Kuki National Organization's objective was the creation of a state, Zale'n-gam, in India and Myanmar. The KNO advocated a liberal democratic political system. However, in the course of the movement, the KNO evidently departs from this ideology. From 2013 it advocates what it calls "consensual democracy" as a new political ideology. These contours of Kuki nationalism, the KNO's political ideology and the changing political landscape post-2013 are analysed here.
George T Haokip ( is a social activist and associate editor of the SKWC Journal of Social Sciences.
The formation of the Kuki National Organization (KNO), a “powerful ethnic militant organisation” representing ethnic Kuki people living in India, Bangladesh and Myanmar (or Burma), had a bearing on the development of Kuki nationalism. Historically, Kuki people who waged war against British imperialism were divided by them into three nations – India, Bangladesh and Burma – converting them into an ethnic minority. This led the Kukis to demand for their pre-British status. Before the advent of the British, the Kukis were politically sovereign. The demand for recognition of this fact by the governments of India and Myanmar is the first constitutional objective of the KNO (Haokip 2010: 379). But decades ago, the Kuki National Assembly and later the Kuki Zonal Chiefs’ Council submitted historic proposals for a “Kuki state” to the then Government of India in 19601 and 1970,2 respectively.
An Overview of Nationalism
Decades later, on 24 February 1980, the KNO was formed at Molnoi Kuki village near the Indo-Burma border3 to launch a strong national movement under the leadership of P S Haokip (Shojang), who wrote Zale’n-gam: The Kuki Nation in 1998, which contains his vision. Today, there are 15 Kuki armed groups under its fold. These are: Kuki National Army (KNA), Kuki National Front-Military Council (KNF-MC), Kuki National Front-Zogam (KNF), United Socialist Republican Army (USRA), Zou Defence Volunteer (ZDV), Zomi Revolutionary Front (ZRF), United Kom-rem Revolutionary Army (UKRA), Hmar National Army (HNA), Kuki Liberation Army (KLA), United Old Kuki Liberation Army (UOKLA), Pakan Revolutionary Army (PKA), Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA), Kuki National Front-Samuel (KNF-S), Kuki Liberation Army (KLA-P), and Kuki Liberation Army (KLA-T).4
While the first objective of KNO is the restoration of Zale’n-gam (Zale’n is free and gam is land) covering parts of Burma, India and Bangladesh. Zale’n-gam reflects a distinctive intellectual framework offering a political world view. While Kuki-Chin-Mizo-Zomi-Kachin are ethnically one nation, KNO is one such national organisation that represents these people in the movement to secure statehood in India (Haokip 2013). The term “Kuki” is interchangeable with the name Chin, Mizo, Zomi or Zo. The movement led by the Mizo National Front (MNF), for example, proclaimed territorial integration and a single administration for the Kuki-Mizo people. Since Kuki is the only name recognised after the creation of Mizoram, the movement is taken forward in this name. This is justified in a historical context and from an ethnographic perspective as well. P S Haokip, the president of KNO reasserted this when he said:
I am open to Zomi as one of the possible and likely options for our common nomenclature (should it be deemed necessary, KNO is willing to put in writing this commitment). Presently, owing to the fact that the terminology Kuki is on official records, our political demands are just not yet detachable from being identity-based.
He also said,
I have no personal and emotional attachment to the terminology per se, yet, prefer it to be adopted at least till we have leveraged its political legacy of representing our people as a collective, and signifying our rightful inheritance of our traditional territories. Once our political aspirations are realised and we are in position to govern our own affairs within the safety of our own protected territory, in true democratic spirit we can have a national debate on the terminology for our national identity (Haokip 2012).
Kuki nationalism is not free from issues of parochialism – inclusivity and exclusivity debates. There are 26 Kuki tribes which share a common culture, origin and historical legacy, but still have divergent opinions. The issue of minority, majority among them and domination leads to disintegration and ethnic proliferation. This experience reveals how fragile and delicate Kuki nation-building is. The challenge before Kuki nationalism is therefore centred on the question of accommodating and consolidating this diversity. There are three impending issues that need to be addressed: (a) consolidating clan exclusivity with inclusive nationalism, (b) people’s orientation towards nationalism, and (c) formulating an accepted national ideology.
The first two are ongoing processes, with much debate. The third, which is the subject of this study, represents both the objective and reason to take nationalism forward. Ideology, the heart and soul of any national movement, guides political action. It tries to radically change old systems to form new ones. The old system relates to a specific “time and condition” in relation to which people think their freedom and justice is ignored. Kuki nationalism aims at changes; the goal is to transition from a “stateless” condition to their old sovereign or to a politically recognised statehood within India. The goal of Zale’n Gam, therefore, is to secure a political state for the Kuki people, where the proposed Zale’n-gam or “Kuki state” should act as a mechanism to govern their own affairs within a defined territory; and prevent its people from socio-economic, cultural and political exploitation, to administer themselves, promote social welfare to the people, etc. The objective of the United People’s Front (UPF), similarly, is to realise an autonomous Hill State within the state, which it thinks is its due share. The aspiration for a political state or homeland is pushed forward fundamentally by the need for safety.
Central Zale’n-gam
As has already been stated, Zale’n-gam is a political vision that the KNO claims was once a sovereign nation. It, therefore, is the basis of KNO’s political ideology. This claim covers areas not only of “Central Zalen’n-gam” in India, but also parts of Burma “Eastern Zale’n-gam”. There are two significant developments in the course of KNO’s political movement. The first is the shift in focus for statehood in India from Burma and second, changes in political ideology from liberalism to consensual democracy in post-2013. P S Haokip in his Zale’n-gam: The Kuki Nation (2010: 380) has clearly stated the objective of KNO as creation of statehood, one in India and another in Burma. This clearly shows that KNO, since the beginning, never demanded sovereign “nationhood” either from India or Burma. The efforts towards political, civil vis-à-vis revolutionary movement for statehood in the early stage, were concentrated within Burma. This evidently led the organisation to establish alliances with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), taking membership with the Federation of Ethnic Nationalities of Burma (FENB), which works for the creation of statehood for unrepresented minority like Kuki, Lahu, Wa, etc (Haokip 2010).
KNO’s focus, however, shifted to India in the late 1990s. It demanded a Kuki state under Article 3 of the Indian Constitution, which led to the signing of Suspension of Operation (SoO) in 2005 with the Indian Army and in August 2008 the KNO entered a “Tripartite Agreement” with the Government of India and the State Government of Manipur. However, there is an evident lack of commitment and political will from the government to solve Kuki problems. This further led to the formation of the Kuki State Demand Committee (KSDC), which demanded that the central government begin a political dialogue with KNO. The KSDC organised a series of democratic protests and even demanded that the government “withdraw its local authorities from Kuki inhabited areas” (KSDC Press Communiqué 2013).
Ideological Relapse
An accorded nationalist ideology serves as a weapon for both present and future nationalism. The absence of it can cause nationalism without “roots and streams”. In such disorder, people are unconscious and unaware of what their future holds. Kuki nationalism lacks public participation in the process of nation-building, nationalism discourses and in policy dissemination processes.
In the preamble to the KNO constitution adopted on 22 February 1980, KNO advocated the fulfilment of “full-democracy”. The preamble reads,
...aims at good governance in the spirit of ‘full democracy’, provide for freedom of worship and speech, to work, reside and own property; to maintain fairness, promote solidarity and to live in peace.
Further, it clearly reflects its political ideology in the emblem,
...the organisation clearly upholds liberal democracy. It advocated secularism, fundamental rights of speech, economic and social freedom to work and to promote peace (Constitution of the Provisional Government of Zale’n-gam 1980).
This indicates that in Zale’n-gam there shall be individualism that constructs a society where individuals can flourish and develop, each pursuing “the good” as he/she defines it. There would be individual freedom or liberty but “under the law”, there will be faith in reason, equality, tolerance, consent, and in constitutionalism. Haokip remarkably said, “We need to carve a future where we progress as a society which is egalitarian, equitable and communitarian” (Haokip 2012). In the same speech he said, “We should gear up to run our government that can effectively deliver justice, equality and progress in a transparent and efficient manner”.
Ideology is a political weapon to condemn or criticise political rivals. Criticism is the basis for any movement, be it initiatives of revolution or reform. There are two levels where ideology can become important. The first may be termed, “inland ideology”, where the constituent people or groups try to become conscious and have consensus of national ideology, factored by the need for a political framework of a future state. While monarchical or totalitarian regimes are considered outdated, historical experience, however, shows that a de facto political regime can emerge by overthrowing the existing regime. Nevertheless, there is a tendency that the anti-thesis to Kuki people can ensue. This reflects the need for a strong and powerful ideology which the people accept. Most civil and practicable political ideologies for the future should be set forth publicly, earlier or during the time when the national movement is enforced. Interestingly, KNO has in its constitution upheld liberal democracy for the Kuki state. The second is that the upheld ideology must be necessarily contrasted with that of the ideology of dominator or coloniser (India). There can be similarity, but there must be a “contrast point” giving reason for popular protest.
Zale’n-gam vis-à-vis India
British imperialism was furthered by India in 1947 when by iron fist it put Zale’n-gamonce an Independent Hill Country, under its dominance. This marks the beginning of the end of Kuki sovereignty. The claims for their lost sovereignty also begin immediately. In this perspective, there are two stages of historical imperialism in south-east Asia. The first is so-called British imperialism against Kukis and the second, post-Independence imperialism or neo-imperialism of the Indian state against the Kukis. The Indian democratic system was suddenly superimposed among subjugated people. While democracy may be the best form, Kukis were not ready to adopt it. This clearly shows the imperialist, suppressive nature of India towards Kuki people. The rise of Kuki separatist movements in north-east India, in modern history, is a direct consequence. It is therefore wrong to brand the Kuki national movement as terrorism. It is a movement of the suppressed and subjugated to reclaim their lost possession. In short, it is justified by the claim for freedom. P S Haokip, the president of KNO and other leaders from the organisation have travelled across the world to promote their liberal nationalism.
Departing Liberalism
After 30 years of founding its constitution that advocated liberal democracy, in his infamous presidential speech on 14 March 2013 at YPA Hall in Churachandpur, Haokip inversed the earlier defined organisational ideology:
...the concept of power which is replaced by Code of Service in the spirit of Khankho. KNO’s ideology is centered on Kuki political identity encompassing all these tribes and leveraging the political heritage of Kuki identity on our land in securing our unsecured traditional territories for our posterity. While the liberal democracies of the world prided themselves on the victory of democratic forces as opposed to communism, our political history promises the evolution of a political system better than majority-based democracy. KNO seeks to place before our people a political system of benevolent and consensual democracy where our various tribes cannot be discriminated because they are less in number. Each and every person and ‘tribe’ in our land shall enjoy equal status, equal opportunity and rights where the concept of power will be replaced by a ‘code of service’ in the spirit of ‘khankho’ and ‘tlawmngaihna’ (Haokip 2012).
This 14 March 2013 speech may be marked as the birth of a new KNO ideology or the “post-2013 KNO ideology”. It departed from liberalism to advocate a new type of political model, “Consensual Democracy”. A consensual model of democracy, in the context of modern regimes, is a typical “minority democracy”, a political system practised in Switzerland, Lebanon, Sweden, Iraq, Netherlands, Austria and Belgium. It is the application of consensus decision-making to the process of legislation in a democracy that is characterised by a decision-making structure which involves a range of opinions. It also refers to a general model of integrative-indirect democracy. Contrary to common belief, it is built on dissensus rather than consensus, on differences in conviction and outlook on life, which need to be carefully integrated. Accommodation and pacification, coalitions and compromises, abound.
Democratising Autocracy
The emergence of “post-2013 KNO ideology” is necessary in two senses. It aims at consolidating democracy with authoritarian chieftainship. Chieftainship is an inalienable Kuki political system. However, there are questions about its validity; its failure to promote democratic rights, equality and freedom to the people. Democracy and traditional chieftainship are irreconcilable in all its elements and, therefore, they cannot coexist (Kapa 2010: 12). There are debates on the role and place of traditional authorities; and how the chieftainship system could coexist with elective local authorities, and how this relationship can be mediated so that the two structures can work in harmony rather than in competition. This has generated intense debate between “traditionalists” and “modernists” in both academic and policy circles (Kapa 2010: 45).
The gist of this debate revolved around three positions: one which regards traditional Kuki chieftainship institutions as outdated forms of authority and an affront to democratic rule, and with no valuable role to play under Indian democracy. As such, they should not be accorded any recognition by the modern state. Rather, they must be abolished. A pragmatic counter position asserts that these institutions are still relevant and legitimate, particularly in rural areas where the majority of the people live. Consequently, it should not be abolished. The third group believes in both traditional authority and democratic system that chieftainship system should be modified in tune with democracy to make it relevant. The remedy for this obstruction is KNO’s “consensual democracy”. While chieftainship is an inalienable political system for the Kukis, it would be modified to accommodate modern democratic system without abolishing the basic chieftainship’s structure.
KNO’s “consensual democracy” in practice is a minority democracy against majority democracy; a typology that mixed traditional authority and democratic system where the two systems come into compromise. It is close to the ideal of the conservatism, which at one time opposed the parliamentary system (Lewin 1998: 195). Tradition is the central element of conservative thought. It desires to conserve the perceived virtues of tradition, respect for established customs, and institutions (O’Sullivan 1976: 36). KNO ideology reflects that it adores traditional authority structures, and the need to preserve the same for future generations. It is also a formula to adjust diverse Kuki sub-tribes like the European Union that had come into being on the basis of a formula acceptable to all members. It ensures justice and recognition of the right of all clans and tribes. In an extreme analysis it is found that KNO ideology is bent towards the indispensable fact that in severely divided Kuki society as Horowitz (2014: 1) stated “ascriptive affiliation, ethnic divisions make democracy difficult”. There is also evident possibility that it could produce ethnic parties and ethnic voting. An ethnic party with a majority of votes and seats can dominate minority groups, seemingly in perpetuity. A comparative study on the KNO model with those contemporary consensual models of democracy elsewhere would be a novel initiative. It would, however, require one to go into the details of KNO ideology.
From the presidential speech, mentioned earlier, it is clear that in Zale’n-gam the concept of power is replaced by Code of Service. It is presumed that there are a set of rules binding a citizen, and that the element of party system (or elected system) would be non-existent. Haokip believes, “…consensual democracy as [being] distinct from party politics and simple majority democracy” (Haokip 2012). The KNO’s model of political systems exhibits a system akin to conservatism mixed with a typical consensual democracy and Kuki chieftainship.
The KNO political movement, as described, is centred on the creation of a Kuki state within India. But, to claim that KNO is the only organisation that launched a movement for self-determination would be one-sided. There is UPF, another apex armed organisation that represents a number of armed groups that demand the creation of an autonomous Hill State “state-within-state” that has coexisted with the KNO. Therefore, there are unconsolidated varieties of movements that have coexisted maintaining different political ideologies. The present note deals exclusively with the KNO. The analysis is based on the KNO constitution adopted in 1980 and from presidential speeches. The latter remained the main source that theorised the so-called “post-2013 KNO ideology”. Therefore, there is limitation, particularly, in the attempt to elaborate the ideological development.
1 Kuki National Assembly memorandum to the Prime Minister of India, 1960.
2 Kuki Zonal Chief’s Council Memorandum to the Prime Minister of India, 1970.
3 KNO Presidential Address on its 26th Annual Raising Day Celebration on 24 February 2013.
4 KNO Presidential Address on its 24th Annual Raising Day Celebrations on 24 February 2011.
Constitution of the Provisional Government of Zale’n-gam (1980): Constitution of the Provisional Government of Zale’n-gam, Kuki National Organization, Manmasi.
Horowitz, Donald L (2014): “Ethnic Power Sharing: Three Big Problems”, Journal of Democracy, Vol 25, No 2, April.
Haokip, P S (2010): Zale’n-gam: The Kuki Nation (Zale’n-gam: KNO Publications).
– (2012): “Political Roadmap for the Kuki People”, speech delivered during KNO & UPF meeting at Dorcas Hall, New Lamka, 6 November.
– (2013): KNO Presidential speech delivered at One Day Interactive Talk on Contours of Kuki Nationalism, organised by Kuki Kibom at V Vengnom, Churachandpur, 22 June.
Kapa, Motlamelle Anthony (2010): “Consolidating Democracy Through Integrating the Chieftainship Institution with Elected Councils in Lesotho: A Case Study of Four Community Councils in Maseru”, Diss, Rhodes University.
KSDC Press Communiqué (2013): Press Communiqué, Kuki State Demand Committee (KSDC), 19 February.
Lewin, Leif (1998): “Majoritarian and Consensus, Democracy: The Swedish Experience”, Scandinavian Political Studies, Vol 21, No 3, pp 195-206.
O’ Sullivan, N (1976): Conservatism (London: Dent).